May 25th, 2017 by Sepehr Oliaei, MD

Balloons are a popular new medical device that have been used in recent years to treat sinus symptoms. They offer a minimally invasive, low downtime method for opening sinuses to allow better drainage and more importantly access for topical drug therapy to the sinuses. Now that we are nearly a decade removed from wide spread adaptation of this technology I wanted to answer some common questions regarding balloon sinuplasty.

1. Does balloon sinuplasty replace regular sinus surgery? 

Short answer is no. Although there are some cases where balloons are used exclusively to treat sinus conditions, it is best to think of a balloon as one of many high tech tools used in endoscopic sinus surgery.

2. Is balloon sinuplasty risk free?

Again no. Although minimally invasive and designed to minimize soft tissue trauma. High pressure dilation can fracture thin bones surround the sinus opening and cause injury to important structures such as the orbit (eye socket) or the skull base. Surgeon familiarity with latest surgical techniques, use of image guidance and balloon technology are the most important factors in preventing injury.

3. Is balloon sinuplasty better in children?

In children, the desire to be minimally disruptive to bony growth plates, puts balloon technology at the forefront of the treatment strategy. I feel that there is potentially an even bigger role in pediatric chronic sinusitis for balloons than there is for adults.

4. Can balloon sinuplasty be done in an office setting under local anesthesia?

It can be. In very select cases. There are limitation in terms of the anatomy and patient tolerance. In my practice that is reserved mostly for patients who have had prior sinus surgery requiring a “touch up”.

5. I have headaches and facial pain but normal sinus CT scan, can balloon sinus surgery help me?

Although this may be advertised by some to be helpful, I suspect it is not much more than a placebo treatment. If you do not have proven sinus disease, balloon is not a magic wand and is likely not going to help much.

6. I have recurrent sinus infections many times yearly, is balloon sinus surgery the answer?

There may be a role for this as an adjunct to medical treatment and traditional functional endoscopic sinus surgery.

7. I have had sinus surgery before, am I still a candidate for balloon sinuplasty?

Potentially yes. Balloons are a good way to dilate previously opened (but subsequently scarred and narrowed) sinus openings. Speak to your ear nose and throat surgeon about the possibilities.

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